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Claudia and the Man in the Overcoat


David C. Card

The stench of smoke from his overcoat mirrored thirty-a-day, Claudia thought.

“My mother used to smoke those cigarettes,” she said.

“Did she really?”

“Yes. She died three months ago.”

“From lung cancer, I suppose?”

Claudia smiled. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

The man smiled. He knew that she did mean something by it.

They sat at the bar. At a table in the corner sat an elderly couple. To the right of that table was a grand piano.

“Isn’t there someone playing tonight?” Claudia asked.

“On his break.”


Claudia looked at the empty spirit glass in front of her.

“What brings you here?” the man asked, lifting a finger to catch the barman’s attention.

“I’m waiting for my partner,” Claudia replied.

“Aren’t we all?”

Claudia didn’t laugh. He said it so seriously, she thought.

When the barman approached, the man ordered a glass of beer and a rum.

“You know,” Claudia began, “I shouldn’t drink it straight. It turns my cheeks red.”

“You must enjoy it, though?”


The barman brought the drinks over and placed them on two squared pieces of paper in front of them.

“So what really brings you here?” the man asked.

“I’m waiting for my partner,” Claudia replied quite seriously.

“I’m sorry.”

Claudia took a sip of her rum. She tasted it. She fanned her face with her hand. It didn’t help.

“So what brings you here?” she asked.

“I work here.”

“Oh really? What is it you do?”

“I play piano.”

“Oh. I’m impressed.”

“I’m honored.”

They both laughed. They both took a sip of their drinks.

“They put so much ice in these glasses,” Claudia began, “it’s like drinking water.”

“Pretty damned expensive water.”

Claudia laughed. Again, though, she thought, he said it so seriously.

She looked over to the table that was next to the piano. The elderly couple had gone and had left behind two empty glasses.

“Do you want to sit at the table by the piano?” Claudia asked. “The light from the bar is stinging my eyes.”

“Won’t your partner mind?”

“Do you want to or not?”

The man took the two empty glasses that were frosted in white foam on the inside and placed them on a near-by empty table. When he returned to their table, he removed his rain-wet overcoat and took out a box of cigarettes. He offered Claudia one.

“Of course you don’t smoke,” he said.

She shook her head.

“Do you mind if I have one?”

“Could you not?”


He placed the box back into the left breast pocket of his shirt.

“Why had you been wearing your overcoat?” Claudia asked.

“Excuse me?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“No, tell me.”

“Well,” she began. She took a sip of her drink. “You’re taking your break inside. So why had you been wearing your overcoat?”

“I needed some air.”


The man smiled.

“So you really play the piano?” Claudia asked.

“I wouldn’t lie.”

“Could I hear you play?”

“I’m on my break,” he said quickly.

Claudia didn’t take a chance whether or not he was serious.

“I used to play the violin when I was twelve,” she said.

“A beautiful instrument. I’d love to play it.”

Claudia wondered whether a real musician would say something like that. It just didn’t seem natural.

The door swung open and a breeze from outside fluttered the brown hair at the back of Claudia’s neck.

“How long have you played the piano?” she asked.

“All my life,” the man replied.

He sipped his drink. She sipped her drink.

There was a prolonged silence. Claudia smoothed her hair down at the back with her fingertips. She sipped her drink. She was drunk now and the man knew it.

“He’s taking his fine time,” he said.


“Are you sure he’s coming?”

Claudia didn’t answer.

“Are you sure he even exists?”

Claudia looked at the ground.

“I’m sorry,” the man said.

His eyes were wide and dark. They looked black in the dim light. Claudia hadn’t noticed that earlier.

“How about you,” she asked, “don’t you have a partner?”

He shook his head.

She glanced at the long lean fingers of his left hand; there was no ring. His fingernails looked pruned and his hands smooth skinned and pink in the tanned half-light. They looked like musicians hands, she thought.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’ll bet you’d love to know.”

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!”

He smiled. She smiled. She threw back her hair, revealing the skin of her neck.

“I can’t possibly tell you my name,” the man said.

“Why not?”

“More interesting.”

“More mysterious?”

They laughed. Claudia drank the last of her drink; it tasted watery; the ice cubes had melted in the heat.

A gust of wind from the doorway blew into the bar and Claudia turned round.

“Another drink?” the man asked.

“I’m sorry,” Claudia said. “Jonathon is here. I have to go.”


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